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Introduction to Special Feature on Catastrophic Thresholds, Perspectives, Definitions, and Applications

Robert A Washington-Allen, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University
David D. Briske, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University
Herman H. Shugart, W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences & Director, Center for Regional Environmental Studies, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia
Lucinda F. Salo, Sage Ecosystem Science


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The contributions to this special feature focus on several conceptual and operational applications for understanding non-linear behavior of complex systems with various ecological criteria at unique levels of organization. The organizing theme of the feature emphasizes alternative stable states or regimes and intervening thresholds that possess great relevance to ecology and natural resource management. The authors within this special feature address the conceptual models of catastrophe theory, self-organization, cross-scale interactions and time-scale calculus; develop operational definitions and procedures for understanding the occurrence of dynamic regimes or multiple stable states and thresholds; suggest diagnostics tools for detection of states and thresholds and contribute to the development of scaling laws; and finally, demonstrate applications that promote both greater ecological understanding and management prescriptions for insect and disease outbreaks, resource island formation, and characterization of ecological resilience. This Special Feature concludes with a synthesis of the commonalities and disparities of concepts and interpretations among the contributed papers to identify issues and approaches that merit further research emphasis.

Key words

catastrophe theory; complex systems science; dynamical systems analysis; ecological resilience; non-equilibrium ecology; self-organization; thresholds; time-scale calculus

Copyright © 2010 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087